Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gordon Lish Praises Care Giver!

The novel I've just recently reviewed and praised now has the maestro, Gordon Lish himself, in its corner!

"I'm sold. I'm so sold I read this book four times before--trembling, trembling--sitting myself down to write this comment. You want to know what the business of the mind is going to be as the body declines into its notorious bankruptcy? Like this, like Care Giver, like the stuff in the braided sentences that constitute the telling of Blanchard's true story. Oh, and the person in the pic on page six?--that's the object of desire for you, perfect and, of course, lost, yet never the least lost."

We're not kidding, folks. This is some kind of wonderful. Please...go pre-order before release on 20 May!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Yuck ick bleurgh

Medical misery tour. Most of today lost to medicine's side effects. Yuck! There have never been any unmixed blessings in my world, so I shouldn't be surprised....

Saturday, April 27, 2013

TAUVERNIER STREET, a collection of short portraits of a place and time


Livingston Press
$9.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: In Jay Atkinson's riveting new story collection, TAUVERNIER STREET, the writer that Men's Health magazine called "the bard of New England toughness" uses a variety of narrative voices, characters and styles to express a single, central truth: you are where you came from. In these stories, some written in "Technicolor" and others in "black and white," a young boy learns to cherish the solid, unremarkable presence of his own father when he gets to know the charismatic dad next door; an ex-Marine finds the strength to deal with his wayward young bride in the pages of an ancient book; and a young gangbanger with a keen sense of history seeks protection from a tough hombre named Jesus.


My Review
: The collection by a writer who says: "...I realized that my old haunts were the starting point for nearly all my characters. It was a neighborhood of steep hills, rickety houses, and long lazy afternoons spent waiting for my father to pull into the driveway," had better deliver on the Sense of Place in every single story. Author Atkinson almost does. I'll go into details as we come to each story, à la the Bryce Method.

The Art of War

Dancing the Presidents

The God of This World

The Tigers in Argentina

God's Work

The Landscapes of Dr. Aboud

The Tex Cameron Show


Two Mississippi's

Latin Kings

Fear of Earnshaw

The Philosophy Shop

The Messenger

Radio Call



The Thorndikes of Tauvernier Street

Friday, April 26, 2013

A day without a new posted review!

Sad, but true. I was working on a review of a book that I found myself floundering around trying to explain my reaction to, and realized that meant I didn't understand it. So I'll have to look it over again and see what I failed to see the first time. Failing that, I'll have a better shot at explaining my response being so wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey. (Whovians will get it.)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A CARRION DEATH, first in a new Africa-set mystery series

A CARRION DEATH (Detective Kubu #1)
Michael Stanley
$15.99 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Smashed skull, snapped ribs, and a cloying smell of carrion. Leave the body for the hyenas to devour-no body, no case.

But when Kalahari game rangers stumble on a human corpse midmeal, it turns out the murder wasn't perfect after all. Enough evidence is left to suggest foul play. Detective David "Kubu" Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department is assigned to the case.

The detective's personality and physique match his moniker. The nickname "Kubu" is Setswana for "hippopotamus"-a seemingly docile creature, but one of the deadliest on the continent. Beneath Kubu's pleasant surface lies the same unwavering resolve that makes the hippopotamus so deceptively dangerous. Both will trample everything in their path to reach an objective.

From the sun-baked riverbeds of the Kalahari to the highest offices of an international conglomerate, Kubu follows a blood-soaked trail in search of answers.

Beneath a mountain of lies and superstitions, he uncovers a chain of crimes leading to the most powerful figures in the country-influential enemies who will kill anyone in their way.

A memorable detective makes his debut in this gritty, mesmerizing thriller. Set amid the beauty and darkness of contemporary Africa, A Carrion Death is the first entry in an evocative new series cutting to the heart of today's Botswana-a modern democracy threatened by unstable neighbors, poachers, and diamond smugglers. Those trying to expose the corrupt ringleaders will find themselves fighting for their lives...

My Review: I want to smack the copywriter who created the promo copy above, and on the dust jacket of my library's hardcover. “Detective” Kubu is “Assistant Superintendent” Kubu. And there's something very uncomfortable to me about the “darkness” of modern Africa cited above. Just tin-eared phrasing, I'm sure. No one in publishing could be unconsciously playing with stereotypes. No no.

Mm. That's as may be. I found Kubu and his Botswana to be a welcome new angle on territory once owned, in the US market and mind, by McCall Smith's rather more twee Mma Ramotswe series. Kubu, the dangerous hippo of a detective in the series, is a Mozart-singing grocery hound, a kind of African Nero Wolfe-cum-Inspector Morse with a very nasty boss, a very appealing wife, and a large country to help police.

It's a nice debut novel about an interesting character with a lot of promise. The writing team, one Afrikaner and one Minnesotan, do a lot with their man's appetites for food, truth, justice, and facts. They're a bit less facile with the villains, using a lot of shortcuts...wealth equals evil...and failing to avail themselves of opportunities to work in some believable offsets to the faults.

The Superstitious Natives Who Are Right trope isn't one I like much, either, but I'll let that go for this book. If it happens again, there will be discussion of it then.

On balance, the series deserves another shot, and the sleuth a chance to grow and shine. Until next year, then.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013



Europa Editions
$18.00 trade paper, $10.99 ebook platforms, reissue available now

COOKING WITH FERNET BRANCA also appears in Literary Fiction & Story Collections

I was reminded of this review of a 2019 reissue by a stray comment, and I loved the book so much I decided to tart up the review and post it here. I so so wish someone would go get John Barrowman by the sleeve and gently but firmly make him understand that a movie of this book starring his beautiful self would be dynamite!

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Gerald Samper, an effete English snob, has his own private hilltop in Tuscany, where he wiles away his time working as a ghostwriter for celebrities and inventing wholly original culinary concoctions-including ice cream made with garlic and the bitter, herb-based liqueur of the book's title. Gerald's idyll is shattered by the arrival of Marta, on the run from a crime-riddled former Soviet republic. A series of hilarious misunderstandings brings this odd couple into ever closer and more disastrous proximity.

James Hamilton-Paterson's first novel, Gerontius, won the Whitbread Award. He is an acclaimed author of nonfiction books, including Seven-Tenths, Three Miles Down, and Playing with Water, He currently lives in Italy.

My Review: Cooking With Fernet Branca is part of oddball publisher Europa Editions's sinister plot to make Murrikins like me aware of the strange and sinister world of lit'rachoor published beyond our shores. Muriel Barbery owes her Murrikin presence to them, too. We all know how *that* turned out....

Well, before moving any farther along in this review process, let me send out the call: Does anyone know how to get hold of (wicked double entendre optional) actor John Barrowman? You know, Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood fame? He is literally missing the key to Murrikin stardom by not reading, optioning, and making this book into a Netflix movie. It suits every single national prejudice we have: Eastern Europeans as sinister lawbreaking peasants who eat strangely shaped, colored, and named things and call them foods (like Twinkies, Cheetos, and Mountain Dew are *normal*); Englishmen as dudis (you'll have to read the book for that translation) who do eccentric off-the-wall things with food that are repulsively named and gruesomely concocted (spotted dick? bubble-and-squeak?); and Italians as supercilious effete cognoscenti of world culture, who possess the strangest *need* for vulgarity.

The characters in this hilarious romp are the most dysfunctional group of misfits and ignoramuses and stereotypes ever deployed by an English-language author. They do predictable things, yet Hamilton-Paterson's deftly ironic, cruelly flensing eye and word processor cause readerly glee instead of readerly ennui to ensue. The whole bizarre crew...the lumpenproletariat ex-Soviet composer, the Italian superdirector long past his prime, the English snob who refers to Tuscany's glory as "Chiantishire" and "Tuscminster"...gyrates and shudders and clumps towards a completely foreseeable climactic explosion (heeheehee). And all the time, snarking and judging and learning to depend on each other. In the end, the end is nigh for all the established relationships and the dim, Fernet Branca-hangover-hazed outlines of the new configurations are, well, the English say it best...dire.

Read it. Really, do. And I dare you not to laugh at these idiots! Don't be put off by the sheer hideousness of the American edition's cover, in all its shades-of-purple garish grisliness. The charm of reading the book is that one needn't look at that...that...illustration...on the cover, but inflict it on those not yet In The Know enough to be reading it themselves.

And seriously...John Barrowman needs to know about this. Pass it on!

No Review Posted 24 April 2013

The book I planned to review was so horrible that I don't even want to mention it, and the one I had as a back-up was pretty dire, too. So disappointing. I always WANT to love the books I pick up, and each one starts out with five shiny, hopeful stars. Bitter, rank disappointment was my lot today.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Review Posted on 23 April 2013

THE FABRIC OF REALITY is an excellent explanation of the reasons a Multiverse replaces a theistic Universe. In Science, Dinosaurs & Environmental Issues

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Monday, April 22, 2013

THE MADE-UP MAN, short & sweet Faustan-bargain tale in 1980s Manhattan


Livingston Press (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$4.95 Kindle edition, availale now

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Self-pity will only get you so far. When Alyson Salky finds that her lover is having an affair with her best friend and he takes the dog with him when he moves out and a man with worse credentials is hired over her at work, it's time to make some major life decisions. She keeps running into the neighborhood fortune teller, Madame Hope, who promises she can make Alyson's wishes come true any wish, so why not a big wish? As far as Alyson can determine, the problem with her life is that she's getting all the crap that women get, and none of the free passes that men get. It's time to switch it's time to see what life is like as a man and while Madame Hope can get that done for her (in exchange for her soul), nothing really goes as planned. The devil, it turns out, has a sense of humor. But who will have the last laugh?


My Review
: Alyson Salky lives in 1980s New York with her beloved, Peter, their dog Dingo, and a few friends that Alyson can't really account for liking. One of those friends, Maggie, snatches Peter out from under Alyson, which is as we all know a painful experience. So what does Alyson do? She sells her soul to the devil, here called Madame Hope the fortuneteller. Several stinging ironies in that, eh what?

So now we get to the title: Alyson chooses, as her first step in this revenge of hers, to become a man. Yes, actually become a man, as in physically transforming herself into the enemy. Madame Hope, an evil glint in her eye (I confess, it's a horrible pun, but it had to be said), agrees with relish to the proposal and *poof* Alyson becomes Bob. Everyone still remembers Alyson, but Bob is part of each memory now, too. Bob is friends, through Alyson, with Maggie and Peter; Bob is now part of the magazine staff where Alyson once worked; and it's these things that allow Bob to wreak his devilish (!) havoc on the lives of Maggie and Peter.

He does a damn fine job of his revenge! Oh my my, does he do a good job! I was quite awed by Heuler's vicious imagination, and I'd hate to be a character at *this* author's mercy. In the end, though, Alyson passes through her revenge fantasy, and her dark night of the soul, and emerges as a fascinating, multi-dimensional character one would like to have on the next barstool. That would be one interesting conversation.

Heuler, a well-published short-story writer and novelist, has a deft hand with prose. There's a nice economy to her storytelling, as she brings this sardonic take on the Don Giovanni story home in under 230pp. It's very easy to see how the characters, all of them, fall into the pits and traps and snares that await all humanity. It's a lot harder to judge them for it than it is other writers' characters precisely because Heuler has such a keen sense of what to say and what to leave out.

There are two problems I have with the book: First, as Bob, the author has some characters think he's gay and in love with Peter, while others don't think so at all, including Peter; second, the last paragraphs of the ending seem to me a cheat, an added-on afterthought that adds nothing to the character or the story.

My first issue is a serious one. Structurally, this mooshy-splooshy confusion isn't dealt with in any kind of story-advancing constructive way. Emotionally, it makes little difference, really, simply keeping two characters from getting inconveniently involved at a certain point; and it gives little depth to any of the interactions Bob has. I took a whole star off because of the unnecessary complication and confusion it caused me in reading the book.

The ending, well, it's not in me to spoiler it, but I can say it bothered me a lot less than the botched gay subplot because it was so short-lived, only a few sentences at the very end of this wicked little book.

A nicely made how-the-other-half-lives cautionary tale, a sharp and sarcastic "Mephistopheles in Manhattan," and a darn good candidate for the title "Love's Labours Won and Lost and Won and Lost and...." Read it soon.

Fresh Review for 21 April 2013

I've finally put up my review of THE DOG STARS in Literary Fiction and Story Collections.

So near and yet so far.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fresh Review for 20 April 2013!

I finished this last night and had to think. And cry. And think some more. But here it is:

CRAPALACHIA: A Biography of a Place in Literary Fiction & Story Collections

Outstanding memoir of a rural upbringing in a part of the country I know little about. Scott McClanahan can write!

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Friday, April 19, 2013

New Review Extra for 19 April 2013

My book circle meets on Monday to discuss THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT by Sloan Wilson. It's sixty years old, more or less, and still extremely timely.

Read it.

ETA But DON'T watch the movie! What a complete bore. Gregory Peck was awful as Tom Rath!

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THE MONTY HALL PROBLEM, Posted 19 April 2013

THE MONTY HALL PROBLEM: The Remarkable Story of Math's Most Contentious Brainteaser

Oxford University Press
$35.95 hardcover, available now

Rating: 3.5 bumfuzzled stars of five

The Publisher Says: Mathematicians call it the Monty Hall Problem, and it is one of the most interesting mathematical brain teasers of recent times. Imagine that you face three doors, behind one of which is a prize. You choose one but do not open it. The host--call him Monty Hall--opens a different door, always choosing one he knows to be empty. Left with two doors, will you do better by sticking with your first choice, or by switching to the other remaining door? In this light-hearted yet ultimately serious book, Jason Rosenhouse explores the history of this fascinating puzzle. Using a minimum of mathematics (and none at all for much of the book), he shows how the problem has fascinated philosophers, psychologists, and many others, and examines the many variations that have appeared over the years. As Rosenhouse demonstrates, the Monty Hall Problem illuminates fundamental mathematical issues and has abiding philosophical implications. Perhaps most important, he writes, the problem opens a window on our cognitive difficulties in reasoning about uncertainty.

My Review: I'd rate it higher if I understood it....

Twenty years ago, a brouhaha erupted in Parade magazine, of all unlikely places, about a probability problem, of all unexpected things. It's an exercise in applied probability mathematics. Here's the famous statement of the problem:

"Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, 'Do you want to pick door No. 2?' Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?"

Okay, so the answer is, "Always switch." You'll win about 64% of the time if you always switch, vs 31% of the time if you DON'T switch. This has been demonstrated again and again and again and again since the problem surfaced in 1959 (under a different name). People are *still* arguing about it! People with advanced degrees in math are arguing against the mathematical proof! (Which reinforces my absence of respect for the mere possession of an advanced degree.)

This book contains formulae and equations, so the phobic should pass it by. Being barely numerate, I skipped anything that had italic x's or y's, curly brackets, extra-large parentheses, or other quick identifiers of mathspeak, and I did okay.

What did I learn? 1) Jason Rosenhouse has a sense of humor and a quick way with a zinger. 2) Always switch doors on "Let's Make a Deal." 3) Rein in my curiosity about subjects I don't grasp readily...getting books via InterLibrary Loan means one has to read them too quickly for comfort!

Should you read it? Probably not. It's not a subject of interest to most people. If it is of interest to you, make sure you have ample time to revisit the more baroque sections. And run run run like a bunny if you see the word "Bayesian!" That way mouth-breathing, drool-dripping, eye-crossing befuddlement lies!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

DESOLATION ROAD, beautifully crafted terraforming-Mars story

Ian McDonald

JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc. (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$7.49 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: It all began thirty years ago on Mars, with a greenperson. But by the time it all finished, the town of Desolation Road had experienced every conceivable abnormality from Adam Black's Wonderful Travelling Chautauqua and Educational 'Stravaganza (complete with its very own captive angel) to the Astounding Tatterdemalion Air Bazaar. Its inhabitants ranged from Dr. Alimantando, the town's founder and resident genius, to the Babooshka, a barren grandmother who just wants her own child-grown in a fruit jar; from Rajendra Das, mechanical hobo who has a mystical way with machines to the Gallacelli brothers, identical triplets who fell in love with-and married-the same woman.

My Review: Earth can't sustain its current population in the style to which all 7 billion of us wish to become accustomed, and no one is predicting a sudden outbreak of common sense and birth prevention to bring the numbers down. What are we to do?

Move, of course. Where? More than one place. There's the Metropolis, the geosynchronous city in space reached by fixed space elevators; but that's filling up too; wherever shall we go?

Well, Mars, for one. The Remote Orbital Terraforming and Environmental Control Headquarters (ROTECH for short) consortium is created on the Motherworld, sent into a moonbelt orbit around Mars, and given a thousand years of development, has finally produced a planetary ecosystem that can sustain unsuited humans in the open.

ROTECH governs Mars as lightly as any frontier is governed. People, let loose from cities and rules, pretty much do what comes naturally. They have babies, they make farms, they organize themselves into Us and Them, and they do it all at breakneck speed without worrying too hard about consequences. When Consequences rain down from the Heavens, well, adapt or die.

Ian McDonald does in 363 pages what others do in 1000. He makes Mars come alive, he peoples it with fabulous characters (human and cyborg and robotic), he creates a logical thought experiment...how can humanity survive its inevitable wearing out of the Motherworld?...and uses it to tell us about ourselves, about what we are *actually* made of, and about what triumphs and tragedies flow naturally and inevitably from that.

I adore this book.


No, really, that's it. I adore this book. You should read it, especially if you point your booger-holder at the sky when science fiction is mentioned. I don't read THAT people should read this. If you don't, then you should be ashamed of your inflexibility.

I even re-read Jane Austen recently. And liked it. So. What's that “I don't like THAT” stuff again?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Today's Review Posts for 17 April 2013

LAZARUS IS DEAD in Literary Fiction & Story Collections

HOUSEKEEPING vs THE DIRT in Books About Books, Authors & Biblioholism

PALACE OF JUSTICE in Mystery Series

Quality stuff one and all! Come and look.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Today's Review Posts for 16 April 2013

It's an all-science Tuesday. Five memorable science/environmental issues titles:

THE VIEW FROM LAZY POINT well, let's say it gets better from here

WICKED PLANTS I may never stop scratching!

THE BIG NECESSITY time we stopped squirming and started talking about sewerage issues

THE LOST CITY OF Z adventure, discovery, death!!

HOW TO BUILD AN ANDROID the chronicle of the loss of PKD's head. Even odder than it sounds

Stop by and see what takes your fancy!

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Monday, April 15, 2013

KIDNAPPING THE LORAX, an environmental activist's dream-fulfilling tale


non-affiliate Amazon link
$17.36 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: East Coast politics meet West Coast idealism when three young environmentalists kidnap the U.S. Secretary of the Interior-code-named The Lorax-and take her to the Pacific Northwest woods. Their goal is to re-educate her through tasks designed to open her eyes to the wonders of the forest, so that upon her return to Washington, DC she will be an advocate for the land. Detailed descriptions of Pacific Northwest flora and fauna.

My Review: US Secretary of the Interior Lacey Thurman is set to make a speech at a timber-industry gathering in the Benson Hotel. Plans are known to be afoot for a green group, Planet Now, to stink-bomb the conference in protest. Security is tight, a Federal official can't be left to the tender mercies of the protesters, right? Well...someone forgot that the conference has been on the Secretary's schedule for some time and therefore gave ill-wishers a chance to plant a mole in the hotel. Walden, Fern, and Tracker (not their real names) are impatient with the tomfoolery of stink-bombing a conference...what good will that do?...but they aren't above using the hijinks for their higher-risk, and they hope more effective, plan: Kidnap the Secretary and sensitize her to the plight of the forests the US Government manages for the benefit of the people...who contribute to political campaigns, THOSE people.

The plan succeeds. Sort of. The Secretary, called "The Lorax" throughout the book, is whisked in her pretty blue suit and her sensible heels to the middle of the forest, subjected to more exercise than any Federal official has ever been required to perform in modern history, and generally made cognizant of the wonders of the forest and its web of life. She and her female kidnapper, Maggie aka Fern, form a Stockholm-Syndrome-style bond. Maggie even loses a finger in her quest to re-educate this Beltway-dwelling politico on the proper place of humankind on Earth.

What ending do you suspect is coming down the pike, based on those facts? Sentimental silliness about Gaia-the-mother, bone-crushing sadness about idealism gone wrong? Nuh-uh. Lichen makes the ending real, the stakes being so high. She takes the easy, expected route, and then she says...Reality and Art can't avoid each other forever. Here it is. Live with it.

I got this book from Ms. Lichen as a Goodreads First Read. I was expecting something less professionally edited, something with a more homemade feel. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of writing ability shown in the book, and was actually involved in the story for quite a bit of the way. I was completely irritated and annoyed that the men were characterized, to use the word loosely, in such a one-dimensional and condescending way. The men's ultimate fate had a curled-lip, "feminist" feel of unsympathetic gynocentrism. As I am not at all a fan of the notion, palpably incorrect, that Woman is Superior, this factor popped me out of the story on many occasions.

But then there is the story itself: Most people can't imagine spending a night away from their gadgets, still less a night without electricity, hot running water, 911 access, a mattress...all of which middle-aged Lorax/Lacey is forced to do, reluctantly, with poor grace, but ultimately with a dawning sense of connection to the world, the *actual* world, around her. She is us...Lorax, thou art but shard of our fracturing pot. And this was for me the heart of the book, the point of the exercise: Sit in your comfy chair and read about this poor, poor lady and her travails. Sneaking in behind the story comes the grappling hook of the plight of the only world we have, and the almost desperate need of those of us like Lacey, who live in our cocoons made of pleasure and ease, to be awakened before the nightmare becomes the only reality we have.

It's nicely done. I'd recommend it to you with more enthusiasm if I didn't have the big attitudinal reservation. But I still recommend it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

THE ALUMINUM CHRISTMAS TREE, end-stage capitalism almost ruins a marriage and a family


Rutledge Hill Press (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$2.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: The shiny aluminum tree was the symbol of everything he thought was right in their lives and everything she thought was wrong. It was 1958 and Jimmy Jackson had it all: a wife, two kids, and the promotion that was his ticket to success. Finally, he could afford all those things he had gazed at in the Sears Roebuck catalog. But now that he had the money, would he find that the true cost was more than he could pay?

My Review: A gift from a delightful old friend, this book arrived at precisely the right time. I was not at my most pleased and happy the day it came. I read the whole book in a sitting, and was much restored and refreshed.

Thomas Davis tells an oft-told tale of a man's descent into depression caused by his single-minded pursuit of material success with no nods towards his inner needs. His wife recounts the tale to her sympathetic audience after his death, which causes her to move to a new, smaller home in town from their half-century long country life on an apple orchard. She tells her cousin and his wife, who are helping her pack and move, the story of the year that almost ended the marriage most people thought was perfect.

I think the story of any well-lived life contains the passage that Mildred, our narratrix, recounts. It's instructive to be reminded of this in fiction as well as fact. All of us fallible humans can run off the rails, and it's often only after losing "everything" that we realize how much we really have that *can't* be lost, only thrown away.

The book breaks no new ground anywhere, but it takes the reader on its well-worn path with a pleasant tone and a loving heart. I can't recommend it to the cynical or the youthful, but anyone over 40 will recognize the situation and could probably benefit from a reminder of its perils and the tenuous nature of human relationships. Take care of them, feed them, prune them carefully, and a lifetime will seem too short.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

REASONABLE DOUBTS, third Guido Guerrieri procedural set in Bari, Italy

(Guido Guerrieri #3) {tr. Howard Curtis}
Bitter Lemon Press
$9.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.9* of five

The Publisher Says: Lawyer Guerrieri is asked to handle the appeal of Fabio Paolicelli, sentenced to sixteen years for smuggling drugs into Italy. Everything seems stacked against the accused, not least because he initially confessed to the crime. His past as a neo-fascist thug also adds credence to the case against him. Only the intervention of Paolicelli’s beautiful half-Japanese wife finally overcomes Guerrieri’s reluctance. Matters get more complicated when Guerrieri ends up in bed with her. Gianrico Carofiglio, born in 1961, is a judge and anti-Mafia prosecutor in the southern Italian city of Bari. Bitter Lemon Press introduced him to English-speaking readers with his best-selling debut novel, Involuntary Witness.

Book One reviewBook Two reviewBook Four reviewBook Five review


My Review:
Third in the Guido Guerrieri Italian legal procedural thrillers, this outing finds Avv. Guerrieri tilting at windmills again, with a twist: He's running an investigation into the client's story. He's taken the case of an imprisoned drug courier who insists he's innocent of knowingly transporting 40 kilos of cocaine from Montenegro back to Bari in the car carrying himself, his wife, and their small daughter. He was a small-time crook before, yes, and (unknown to the client) was even a nasty Fascist gang-bully in the 1970s who beat young Guido up in the street. But to imperil his own wife and daughter by doing something so stupid as to run a hundred pounds of cocaine across international borders?! Never!

But word in the prison-yard is that Avv. Guerrieri is a good one, a lawyer who does the job he's hired for, and makes the case work for the client. This time, though, Guido faces something a little bit tougher than just a client probably guilty and just denying it out of embarrassment at involving his family, or even the long-ago beating he got at the client's hands (which the client's clearly forgotten): Don Quixote de Guerrieri has met his Dulcinea, the client's beautiful half-Japanese wife Natsu.

And here Guido Guerrieri is, single and everything, since Margherita left for New York and a new life (the rat!). And here Natsu is, unsure of her husband's innocence, unsure of her future, unsure of how to tell her daughter that Papa's not coming home from his business trip until 2025...what can you expect a woman to do when a handsome older gent with sad eyes and a penchant for reading strange books, a sophisticated palate that can really appreciate her cooking, and a way with soothing her deeply unhappy daughter's nightmares falls into her lap?

In the end, as always, Guido sees justice served, and sees his services amply rewarded in the process by solidifying his excellent reputation among the criminal classes, with the local narcotics officers, and the Italian judiciary, all at the same time. Not for the first time, Carofiglio weaves a believable resolution to a plot he seems to have set in motion specifically to challenge the clockwork universe into crushing our Don Quixote hero with the windmill blades.

At the end of the last book, Guido and Margherita were celebrating Christmas together! He'd even jumped out of a plane to impress her! And in one short passage at the very beginning of this book, Carofiglio dispatches her to the same place that all happy-making things go in the lives of hard-boiled sleuths. I was a little bit surprised at first, then I remembered the cardinal rule of noir: No one is happy for long.

A doomed affair with a client's wife is a great noir touch, too. No one even moderately sentient can doubt for a second that, once Natsu appears, Guido's going to succumb to her and that she's going to offer up the goods. All progresses apace, and the expected complications ensue; and perhaps that's why this installment isn't quite so thrilling to me as the previous two. I suspect that the far greater emphasis on the investigative parts of the case as opposed to the actual court arguments and examinations might contribute to my lack of superhappy. But the elements are there, just in smaller proportion to previous outings. All I can hope is that the series doesn't become all PI instead of procedural.

I really like the translations of these books, I must say, since they give me credit for being intelligent enough to need the occasional reinforcement of the book's Italian setting by using actual Italian in some non-critical but very practical ways. My favorite example is the characters calling each other, when culturally necessary for them to do so, by their job titles, eg Guido being called "Avvocato" or "Lawyer-man" in professional contexts, exactly as they would in Italy. Grace notes like this are very important to my sense of pleasure in a book, and greatly enhance my willingness to read more of the series.

I continue to enjoy these books, and wait eagerly for the next installment. That's saying something from a man whose "to be read" shelf has over 1000 titles on it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

THE OTHER WES MOORE, not my personal preference for positive reading about race in the US

THE OTHER WES MOORE: One Name, Two Fates

Spiegel & Grau
$13.99 Kindle, available now

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: Two kids with the same name lived in the same decaying city. One went on to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison. Here is the story of two boys and the journey of a generation.

In December 2000, the Baltimore Sun ran a small piece about Wes Moore, a local student who had just received a Rhodes Scholarship. The same paper also ran a series of articles about four young men who had allegedly killed a police officer in a spectacularly botched armed robbery. The police were still hunting for two of the suspects who had gone on the lam, a pair of brothers. One was named Wes Moore.

Wes just couldn’t shake off the unsettling coincidence, or the inkling that the two shared much more than space in the same newspaper. After following the story of the robbery, the manhunt, and the trial to its conclusion, he wrote a letter to the other Wes, now a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. His letter tentatively asked the questions that had been haunting him: Who are you? How did this happen?

That letter led to a correspondence and relationship that have lasted for several years. Over dozens of letters and prison visits, Wes discovered that the other Wes had had a life not unlike his own: Both had grown up in similar neighborhoods and had had difficult childhoods, both were fatherless; they’d hung out on similar corners with similar crews, and both had run into trouble with the police. At each stage of their young lives they had come across similar moments of decision, yet their choices would lead them to astonishingly different destinies.

Told in alternating dramatic narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world.

My Review: Chronic overachiever and Marine Wes Moore gets captivated by the fate of his fellow Baltimorean, who is a convicted murderer, Wes Moore. They meet and become friends, leading to this book.

More's the pity. This damn thing is like getting a sunshine enema. One feels far crappier about disliking this book than a mere novel, or a tendentious political screed from some libertarian or conservative wingnut *coughHannitycough*. I'm all for interrupting the prevailing narrative of Black failure and the misery of existing as a Black male in our society. I'd just prefer to have that experience without the regressive reminder that "there but for the grace of God go I" (wonderful, useful phrase but origin unknown despite my belief that John Bradford said it first). One certainly empathizes with Author Moore, his relief that he's not the one in the cell is palpable, but so is his compassion...and his quietly judgmental satisfaction. Or so it felt to me.

The author's breezy, anecdotal style is perfectly adequate to the task of telling his story. It's in no way unique or even very interesting, but the points are made, the language is limpidly clear, and I never once thought the publisher was crazy for acquiring but not copyediting (meaning there are only a few errors of spelling or grammar) the book. This is an increasingly rare feeling on my part.

So what's with the curmudgeonly reaction to it? I loathe being preached at. This book feels preachy and smug to me. I can almost feel Jesus in every word, and this is a most disturbing and disagreeable sensation to me. The entire time Author Wes is reporting the conversations he has with Murderer Wes, I wished the murderer was the one I was listening to...I am that averse to being chirped at.

I didn't like it, and I doubt I'd like either Wes Moore in the flesh either. I'm glad I read it, but I don't recommend it to anyone not in search of the Wonderbra experience: Uplifted beyond that which is natural (not to mention desirable).

Thursday, April 11, 2013

THE YELLOW BIRDS, a poet's first novel of the Iraq War


Back Bay Books
$9.99 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 4.75* of five


The Publisher Says: "The war tried to kill us in the spring," begins this breathtaking account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger.

Bound together since basic training when their tough-as-nails Sergeant ordered Bartle to watch over Murphy, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes impossible actions.

With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, THE YELLOW BIRDS is a groundbreaking novel about the costs of war that is destined to become a classic.

My Review: I do so wish publishers would stop using the phrase “destined to become a classic” because, even if I agree with them (in this case I do), it's so obviously a sales pitch that it's a turn off.

No one knows for sure what the future will consider a classic. No one in 1955 would've given The Lord of the Rings future-classic status. No one in 1851 would've known about Moby-Dick, it was such a flop! The Great Gatsby? Please! Out of print by 1940!

This book, fragmented like PTSD memories, written in deceptively simple sentences by a *shudder* poet of all things, earns my admiration for its beauty, its simplicity, its sheer raw emotional up-front-ness. It has these, and many other, things in common with books that have stood the test of time and become classics. It is a first novel; it is about a young man's journey into a unique hell of memory and the maze he travels even to imagine daylight guiding him out; it is, one strongly suspects based on the author's CV, a roman à clef. So far, so good, for the oddsmakers' guess it will become a classic; so did The Naked and the Dead, so did The Sun Also Rises, and so on. I think it will be a classic. I hope it will, and I offer this passage as support for my hope and conviction:

When we neared the orchard a flock of birds lit from its outer rows. They hadn't been there long. The branches shook with their absent weight and the birds circled above in the ruddy mackerel sky, where they made an artless semaphore. I was afraid. I smelled copper and cheap wine. The sun was up, but a half-moon hung low on the opposite horizon, cutting through the morning sky like a figure from a child's pull-tab book.

We were lined along the ditch up to our ankles in a soupy muck. It all seemed in that moment to be the conclusion of a poorly designed experiment in inevitability. Everything was in its proper place, waiting for a pause in time, for the source of all momentum to be stilled, so that what remained would be nothing more than detritus to be tallied up. The world was paper-thin as far as I could tell. And the world was the orchard, and the orchard was what came next. But none of that was true. I was only afraid of dying.”
That, for me, is a lovely moment of mortal fear's hyperreality-inducing sensory twist. Never having been in war, I can't say it's what a soldier would feel, but having been afraid for my life from external causes, I can say that is the kind of sharp-edged seemingly odd clarity of perception that happened to me. The author was a soldier in Iraq. I suspect he saw and felt these exact things, and because he's *gag* an MFA-havin' poet, he remembered them with extreme precision.

Kevin Powers is One To Watch. This book won the 2012 Guardian First Book Award; the 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (which recognizes books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures); the 2013 Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction (a $5,000 award administered by the American Academy of Arts and Letters); and the 2013 Prix littéraire étranger Le Monde, given by the French newspaper Le Monde. I strongly suspect this could be the best novel we see from him unless he gets back on the authorial horse to do better than his previous best. I hope he does, and I pray it doesn't blight his ambitions to be so successful so early in his novel-writing career. I most urgently petition the Muses for his beautiful, beautiful talent to survive intact the horrors of commerce, where the agonies of war built a palace for him.

The 2017 film gets a solid 4 stars of five from me, and is available free to Amazon Prime members. Alden Ehrenreich, from that Star Wars movie that got so much hate, is Bartle; and Toni Collette plays his mom; and Jennifer Aniston plays Mrs. Murphy, the mother who entrusts her son to Bartle. All three, as well as the other actors, give very creditable performances in a script that was of decidedly less exalted quality than the novel was. Not bad, not great, better than average by a hair or two; that is not high praise. The story itself makes the experience of watching the film satisfying.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A WALK IN THE DARK, second Guido Guerrieri procedural set in Bari, Italy

(Guido Guerrieri #2) {tr. Howard Curtis}
Bitter Lemon Press
$9.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.9* of five

The Publisher Says: When Martina accuses her ex-boyfriend—the son of a powerful local judge—of assault and battery, no witnesses can be persuaded to testify on her behalf, and one lawyer after another refuses to represent her. Guido Guerrieri knows the case could bring his legal career to a messy end, but he cannot resist the appeal of a hopeless cause. Nor can he deny an attraction to Sister Claudia, the young woman in charge of the shelter where Martina is living, who shares his love of martial arts and his virulent hatred of injustice.

Book One reviewBook Three reviewBook Four reviewBook Five review


My Review
: In the second installment of the Avv. Guido Guerrieri legal thriller series, Our Hero has accepted the case of an abused woman who wants to bring civil suit against her battering, stalking ex-lover. Who just happens to be the son of the most powerful criminal judge in the city of Bari. And he didn't get that way by passing out Christmas hams to the needy, if you get my drift. Martina, at considerable risk to herself, wishes to put an end to the charm in her ex's charmed life by making him face publically the harm he's done her; he isn't, unsurprisingly, prepared to let this happen, and he retains the meanest, most sick-making kind of silk-upholstered shit-sack of a lawyer one can imagine. (The author being a judge, I suspect this character is a sarcastic payback on someone or someones he's dealt with in his anti-Mafia trials.)

Cue Guido's Don Quixote music! Saddle up, Sancho Reader, we're going for a tilt at the windmill of privilege, social and societal. Guido hears about the case with aplomb...she's gotta be kidding, so he slapped her around, this isn't a criminal case, c'mon! stalking? what, a man can't walk down a street?...until a combination of a feminist martial artist/nun, a female public prosecutor, and the head of the local deviant crimes unit all singing the same song makes him listen, and re-evaluate. Then they tell him who is alleged to have committed the crime.

Whoa Nelly! Career suicide help line, my name is don't do it, please tell me everything...and by god, Guido does the amazing and the improbable: He learns to accept that male privilege is a mindset, and society doesn't even notice it. (I'd add straight privilege if it was relevant, which it's not here, but it's equally virulent.) He's already sure he wants to take down the son of the local bought judge because he's an old leftist. (Old, hell, he's a puppy of forty.)

And Guido works his most sneaky, ju-jitsu-inspired magic in the trial that ensues. He really gives it a twist this time. So does the author. SUCH a twist, with nuns and cops and lawyers and sleazeballs all enmeshed in a fracas that had me, no exaggeration, gasping and jumping up and down.

In a paltry 215pp, I lived through the entire range of my emotional reactions to violence. Each of them. In turn, simultaneously, in order of virulence, and finally in catharsis.

I am not a subscriber to the Woman is Saintly Victim school of thought. I do not believe that men are abusers and women victims by nature, despite the crap that infests our fictional bookosphere. The issue of stalking, and its nastier ancillary complexes, is a very real one and a very scary one. The world has mean, nasty, horrible people in it, and by all that's holy, they need to be put away, stopped, found out and exposed. This novel satiated my strong need for that to happen, and it did a brilliant job of it.

The ending, while emotionally intense and not entirely pleasant, came close to being perfect. Close, so close...one event did not happen, and that is my one cavil with the whole thing.

I'm a big fan of the less prurient, more procedural style Carofiglio uses in these books, compared to the confessional, almost pornographic closeness to the dramatis personae most American procedurals use. Don't be surprised if your take on the style changes...from con to pro, but possibly the reverse...in this installment. It's a balancing act, as it always must be, to decide what details to present, what relationships to flesh out, what to suggest and what to explain. Carofiglio makes the most use of suggestion of any crime writer I've found.

Me likey. A lot.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Today's Review Posts for 9 April 2013

MORE BATHS, LESS TAKING in Politics & Social Issues

MURDER IN THE RUE ST. ANN in GLBTQ (Chanse MacLeod #2)

WICKED BUGS in Science, Dinosaurs & Environmental Issues

THE PALACE OF ILLUSION in Literary Fiction & Short Story Collections

STILL LIFE (Chief Inspector Gamache #1) in Mystery Series

All reviews posted in this blog are subject to Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Today's Review Posts for 8 April 2013

ZEITOUN in Politics & Social Issues

THE BIG SLEEP in Mystery Series

FLOWER CONFIDENTIAL in Science, Dinosaurs & Environmental Issues

THE GALAXIE AND OTHER RIDES in Literary Fiction & Short Story Collections

TALL TALES WITH SHORT COCKS Volume 1 in Bizarro, Fantasy & SF

All reviews posted in this blog are subject to Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

PREDATOR NATION, a seven-year-old wake-up call as trenchant now as it was then

PREDATOR NATION: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America

$15.00 trade paper, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: Charles H. Ferguson, who electrified the world with his Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, now explains how a predator elite took over the country, step by step, and he exposes the networks of academic, financial, and political influence, in all recent administrations, that prepared the predators’ path to conquest.
Over the last several decades, the United States has undergone one of the most radical social and economic transformations in its history.
· Finance has become America’s dominant industry, while manufacturing, even for high technology industries, has nearly disappeared.
· The financial sector has become increasingly criminalized, with the widespread fraud that caused the housing bubble going completely unpunished.
· Federal tax collections as a share of GDP are at their lowest level in sixty years, with the wealthy and highly profitable corporations enjoying the greatest tax reductions.
· Most shockingly, the United States, so long the beacon of opportunity for the ambitious poor, has become one of the world’s most unequal and unfair societies.

If you’re smart and a hard worker, but your parents aren’t rich, you’re now better off being born in Munich, Germany or in Singapore than in Cleveland, Ohio or New York.

This radical shift did not happen by accident.


My Review
: I am second to none in my passionate love for and gratitude to the United States of America for the astoundingly amazingly wonderfully free-from-want life I lead.

And as that life is, day by day, taken from me piecemeal by the rich, the greedy, and the stupid, I am going to shout and point and wave my arms a lot to get the attention of the few, the many, the unwilling or willing, to see if I can't effect some small change to build on.

Count on it.

This library book was a fourteen-day loan, and I've had it seventeen days. I couldn't read much at a time because it made me furious, hysterically angry, livid to the point of stroke. I am disabled by a chronic, genetically transmitted condition that causes severe and painful acid buildup on my joints and near areas that have tendons. (Check the photos on my profile...that claw-lookin' thing is my left hand.) I have health care AND get prescriptions for the medicines that ameliorate my disabling condition. As they are given under regular supervision, I am able to avoid the problem of renal failure that comes with more than one of the medications, not to mention horrible gastric consequences, which I just have to put up with.

And in this rich nation, would you like to know what the princely payout to me, to enable me to survive? A little under $1200 a month. Food stamps, $150 a month at most, can't be awarded to someone in assisted living. Medicaid and Medicare, working in tandem, keep my illnesses from becoming *dire*. These programs, which here in New York State are more generous than most places, are part of the privilege I experience as an old white man with friends whose positions of experience and power were used to my benefit in acquiring my safety net. And, were it not for the charity of friends, not please be assured my family members, oh nay nay nay, never dare even to ask them for help (well, now, one aunt handed over $4000 as I was losing my house, which put off the evil day for several months), I would've been completely unable to face the wall of bureaucracy still less get what I need. Imagine that case, ill and despairing and truly at rock bottom, without my white male privilege. The COVID-19 plague's ravages fall disproportionately on poorer communities; many of those people are wage-earners on the ragged edge already; their employers are firing right and left, unemployment is running out, and many are simply unable to make do without private charity. Which has a limit.

And then what? I don't know.

I am, as you see, not alone in my predicament. I am, in fact, a reasonably common-or-garden recipient of the fucking that corporations and CEOs and banks are doling out to each and every one of us not in their club. It's not new, this phenomenon. It was for millennia the norm. Then, one day in 1773, a group of rowdy, angry, sick-of-it colonists in Boston (of all places) said “oh fuck you” to king and church and country. Go Massachusetts!

Now, 240 years on, the rotten sleazy fucks we kicked out of power are back with a vengeance, thanks to 1) greedy politicians, 2) evil, evil, evil preachers, 3) stupid, complicit conservatives and “libertarians” (aka the Authoritarian's Best Friends League), and last but not least the laziest, most astoundingly selfish population of “future millionaires” (tip: if daddy wasn't a millionaire, you won't be either, sure as the sun rises in the east) ever fattened up for the slaughter on the American Dream (of what? for whom?).

No. I don't mean the immigrants. I don't mean the union workers. I mean you. The person who doesn't know who his/her state senator is. Who the county tax assessor is. Who watches fucking idiot-box crap and not presidential debates because it's too hard, it's boring, it doesn't matter anyway.

Welcome to what happens when you're not paying attention.

And you deserve it.

I, on the other hand, who have voted and shouted and waved my arms about this shit since 1980, do not. But here I am in the same goddamned boat as the lazy, the stupid, the religious, the conservative or libertarian. Is that in any way fair? No. It sucks wookiee balls. (Nobody likes hair in their teeth.)

But still, there it is. Hate is written into state constitutions because the Jesus Brigade for Tradishnull Fambly Valyews (aka Focus on the Family, et alii) doesn't like faggots. State senators, the same goddamned fucks in the GOP who authorize spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on casinos, *still* want to cut funding for public health IN THE MIDDLE OF A PLAGUE.

And this angry, prescient book details how it got this way, why it stays this way, and, in one short ending chapter, what possible means there are to combat it. I am not, by nature, an optimistic person. I sincerely believe that humans love one thing more than hate, and that's group hate. Food, sex, money...all significantly farther down the list. Hate is the killing ape's favorite pastime. What else (as we see increasingly obviously in 2020) is fandom, sports or TV or celebrity? What else is religion, politics? So I expect things will get worse, because the haters like that. Everyone should suffer!

And so we do. In our billions, we suffer. Unnecessarily, inexcusably, preventably. And so it goes.

But it does not have to. Everyone, and I mean every last one, of the US's eligible voters has a moral duty to vote in the November 2020 elections. The entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and the Presidency of the United States of America need to be elected. All of those offices need to be held by people whose ideas and goals for the USA are in line with yours...and I am willing to bet that a lot of y'all have undergone some sort of shift in those goals.

So get out and vote!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

DEFENDING JACOB, routine courtroom drama redeemed by a wallopin' good ending; Posted 6 April 2013


Bantam Books
$17.00 trade paper, $12.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.25* of five

The Publisher Says: Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

My Review: Courtroom legal thriller. Nothing new there.

Redeemed from two-star basement by two things: The ending, which I am surprised to say I didn't see coming. It was a gut-punch.

And also two quotes, things I closed the book and nodded sagely after reading, things that were So Well Said I had to take a pause for absorption:

It was as if there was a place called After, and if I could just push my family across to that shore, then everything would be all right. There would be time for all these "soft" problems in the land of After.
Yes, yes, anyone who has ever lived through A Tragedy knows this feeling intimately, knows how this sentence encapsulates the aching need to be normal and better and fixed...that never comes....

And this:

At some point as adults we we cease to be our parents' children and we become our children's parents instead.
Anyone who has read some of my more dyspeptic posts on Facebook will realize how little I think of the adolescent exceptionalism that pervades our adult culture. You don't have a *right* to own a gun, unless you're in a "well-regulated militia," you have a stupid-ass paranoid fear that results from imaging They are out to get you. It's a symptom of a brand of stupid arrogant vanity, a sense of self as Uniquely Valuable, that is ridiculous and borderline mentally ill.

No one is so damned important that They are Out To Get You. And that sentence, that piece of Landay's wisdom, explains why it should be okay to say "Oh just STFU and grow up!" to more people more often.

Anyway. Up from a rocklike two all the way to three and a quarter stars. An enjoyable read redeemed by surprise and wisdom...helluva job, Landay!

2020 UPDATE FOUR TV-SERIES STARS Chris Evans plays Andy Barber with a complexity and focus that made me invest even more heavily in the AppleTV+ adaptation than I had in the book (as the ending approached). I like Mr. Evans's style of acting in general, but he sets the knobs to 11 and then wraps every-damn-thing in lead shielding as Andy's universe shreds...and then there's the slightly altered ending, which was pretty big stuff for Evans to play.

Still, eight episodes was two too many in my estimation, leading Michelle Dockery's performance as Laurie Barber to wear thin. It's hard to watch her reach deeper and deeper into herself and come back with much the same intensity...nonetheless, anything mildly critical I say shouldn't keep you from signing up for the free trial, binging the series, then canceling. Whatever you do, don't give those sleazebags any more of your money than is impossible to avoid.

Friday, April 5, 2013

THE SHAPE OF WATER, first of the late Camilleri's Montalbano novels

THE SHAPE OF WATER (Inspector Montalbano #1)
ANDREA CAMILLERI (tr. Stephen Sartarelli)
Penguin Books
$6.99 ebook platforms, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Andrea Camilleri's novels starring Inspector Montalbano have become an international sensation and have been translated from Italian into eight languages, ranging from Dutch to Japanese. The Shape of Water is the first book in this sly, witty, and engaging series with its sardonic take on Sicilian life.

Early one morning, Silvio Lupanello, a big shot in the village of Vigàta, is found dead in his car with his pants around his knees. The car happens to be parked in a rough part of town frequented by prostitutes and drug dealers, and as the news of his death spreads, the rumors begin. Enter Inspector Salvo Montalbano, Vigàta's most respected detective. With his characteristic mix of humor, cynicism, compassion, and love of good food, Montalbano goes into battle against the powerful and the corrupt who are determined to block his path to the real killer. This funny and fast-paced Sicilian page-turner will be a delicious discovery for mystery afficionados and fiction lovers alike.

My Review: Television made me do it.

No. Really. There's an Inspector Montalbano mystery TV series made in Italy, filmed in Sicily, and all in Italian with subtitles. Since there are no Italian people in New York City and environs, our local PBS stations AND the city's wholly owned TV station neither one carry it. {/sarcasm}

It was left to a not-very-cultured bud of mine in **DAYTONA, FLORIDA** of all the lowbrow, low-rent places, to gush and rave and generally make a to-do over scrumptious Sicily and handsome Montalbano blah blah blah. Wench. And oh the insufferable coos of "Really? Truly? You haven't even *read* the books? No! Get out!"

THEN, to add insult to injury, who but a cyber-siren (second class) reviewer and friend should pop up with more rapturous flutings about Camilleri and Montalbano and well, you see?? See?! How on earth is one two-eyed human supposed to resist a cyber-siren's enticements? Okay, she's not up there with the Goodreads Gods yet, but just a few more eye grafts and it's Katie bar the door!

So fine fine, I give, five lights, I'll go get the blasted thing. I did, at 2:10pm yesterday. I finished the second read at 4pm today. It's short, obviously, but it's just completely fabulously delicious. It's wry, it's witty, and it's got my favorite quality: Good people do the right thing, even if it's illegal, and bad people don't get away with dick.

Montalbano's got a lover in Genoa, a hot chick who happens to be his friend's daughter, and she's all worked up for him, as well as a murder suspect who is an Italian man's wet dream: tall, blonde, Swedish, racing car driveress. Does he cheat on the lover? No. Does he seem to want to? Not so much, he really can't be bothered about silly stuff like that when the local party big-wig is found half-naked and dead in the local errr, mmm, uuuh "playground" shall we say. The man's widow, completely unfazed by this, helps Montalbano see the details that are wrong, the little discrepancies that shouldn't be noticeable, but when added up make the whole picture...askew.

The resolution to this case is one I wish some publisher would allow an American author to get away with. I just can't say enough about the rightness of it all. Sicily needs me, I must fly there immediately! Well, via Camilleri's books. And over a smallish Northeastern city, where I plan to *bomb* a Certain Cyber-Siren Party's residence.